By now you know that I’m very susceptible to a challenge. Add in that it would cause me to prioritize the indulgence of reading a few amazing books and you’ve basically got my paradise. This very idea is where the New York Times Top 10 Challenge came about.
Last year, I challenged my dear friend Brittany to read the New York Times Top 10 within the first quarter of the new year. The list comes out at the end of every year, so we completed the New York Times Top 10 books for 2016, in 2017. This year, we’re reading the Top 10 for 2017. Make sense? The books vary in content and genre, so you have to have a pallet for new things and also a tolerance for potentially maddening prose. Brittany is equally, if not more so, as competitive as I am, so she was totally game!
Brittany and I each completed the nearly 10 books a little bit over the aimed for timeline. We were finishing our final books in April of last year and, at least in my case, I just could not read one of them.
- “The Association of Small Bombs” Karan Mahajan
- “The North Water” Ian McGuire
- “The Underground Railroad” Colson Whitehead
- “The Vegetarian” Han Kang
- “War and Turpentine” Stefan Hertmans
- “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” Jane Mayer
- “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” Matthew Desmond
- “In the Darkroom” Susan Faludi
- “The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between” Hisham Mather
- “At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails” Sarah Bakewell*
* This is the one I did not read. In fairness, I bought it on Kindle and fully intend to read it at some point in my life, but now is not that time. Neither was it the time in high school when we were covering existentialism in Mr. August’s AP English class. If you’re reading this teach, I still am not all about the existentialism.
Brittany and I both loved this challenge, but we agreed the time limit we had put on ourselves made it less than enjoyable. So, for this year, we just intend to read — or attempt to read — the Top 10 for 2017 before the end of the year, and the presentation of another list of beautiful new works to read!
- “Autumn” Ali Smith
- “Exit West” Moshin Hamid
- “Pachinko” Min Jin Lee
- “The Power” Naomi Alderman
- “Sing, Unburied, Sing” Jesmyn Ward
- “The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World — and Us” Richard O. Prum
- “Grant” Ron Chernow
- “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America” James Forman Jr.
- “Praire Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder” Caroline Fraser
- “Preistdaddy” Patricia Lockwood
My progress on 2017
I’m doing fairly well working my way through the list. I have read six of the 10 books to this point and two of them are sitting on my end table from the library! Lucky for me, there can be some overlap with my other reading commitments: book circle and the book club I started at work. For example, we read “Sing, Unburied, Sing” as a book club book and I read “Exit West” as a result of the first book circle.
Why read the New York Times top 10
If competition or satisfaction of crossing books off a list doesn’t drive you, consider this: You have a book type. I know I do, or several really: young adult science fiction, adult science fiction, current policy nonfiction, chick lit and historical fiction to name a few. Reading a critically acclaimed list like this one forces you to come outside of your type, potentially challenging you to see the world from a different point of view. Could I, your fairly typical middle-class white woman in her 20s, truly understand the culture of eviction, the cycle and psychological pitfalls of the criminal justice system on black men or the suffering of Korean women living in Japan without some of these amazing novels? Emphatically: No! I also don’t claim to be an expert in any of these areas, but I’m humbled and my worldview is broadened by having read these books — and you should too!
P.S. Stay up-to-date with what I’m currently reading and more by subscribing to the monthly newsletter!